• Psychological resilience involves people’s ability to recover and work through trauma or other challenging life events.
  • Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that can lead to severe health problems.
  • Recent data suggests psychological resilience may improve health outcomes among older adults with type two diabetes.

A​s the population ages, experts are working to understand factors that influence healthy aging and encourage a better quality of life. Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is a chronic metabolic disorder that can impact long-term health outcomes.

A​ new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that older adults diagnosed with T2D who had high levels of psychological resilience were more likely to have better physical functioning, higher quality of life, and a lower likelihood of frailty and self-reported disability.

Psychological resilience, or just resilience, depends on people’s ability to respond and adapt to complex events like stress or trauma. It has to do with bouncing back after experiencing hardship.

Anamara Ritt-Olson, Ph.D., an associate professor of health, society, and behavior at the School of Public Health at the University of California, Irvine, not involved in the study, explained resilience to MNT in this way:

“Resilience is the incredibly common ability to both withstand and bounce back from adversity. It is the armor that we wear to weather the difficulties of life. We are often put in the spin cycle of life, but resiliency allows us to come out relatively unharmed.”

Both internal and external factors impact resilience. People are different, so their levels of resilience are also different. For example, adults with greater levels of social support are more likely to have more robust levels of resilience.

Resilience can impact many aspects of people’s lives, including how they cope with chronic conditions. T2D is a chronic metabolic disorder that affects the body’s ability to use glucose for energy.

It requires careful long-term management. If left unmanaged, it can lead to severe health complications like diabetic nephropathy and heart disease. Experts are still researching the best disease management methods and factors influencing long-term health outcomes.

Experts in this current study wanted to examine how psychological resilience impacted health in older adults with T2D.

The study included over 3,000 older adult participants with T2D. These participants were originally enrolled in a clinical trial that compared different diabetes management interventions. Current study authors followed up with these participants on average fourteen and a half years later. They measured a few different components among the participants:

  • resilience, using the Brief Resilience Scale that relies on self-reporting
  • ​overnight hospitalizations within the last year
  • physical functioning, including self-reports and looking at gait speed and grip strength
  • physical and mental quality of life
  • frailty, which was measured with unintentional weight loss, physical inactivity, low energy, slow gait, and reduced grip strength
  • depressive symptoms

Overall, researchers found that higher levels of psychological resilience were associated with better health outcomes, including lower numbers of hospitalizations, better physical functioning and quality of life, and fewer symptoms of depression.

Study author KayLoni Olson, Ph.D., noted the following study highlights to MNT:

“In this study, we found that among older adults with Type 2 diabetes, individuals who reported a greater degree of psychological resilience (being able to ‘bounce back after stress) also reported better overall aging-related health. This includes metrics like fewer hospitalizations in the previous year, lower likelihood of meeting criteria for frailty, and greater mental well-being.”

However, researchers also found some variation between the association of resilience with some metrics. They note that this indicates that “some associations may differ based on race [or] ethnicity.”

This particular study had a few limitations indicating the need for more in-depth research.

First, the study cannot determine causality. It was also a cross-sectional study, which means that the authors could not determine the directional relationship of the variables.

Other limitations are related to particular study and analysis methods. For example, they did not look at all of the sociocultural factors that may impact resilience. They also didn’t examine specific aspects of aging, like cognitive function. The majority of participants were white and female, which can limit the generalization of the study’s findings.

Dr. Ritt-Olson offered the following insights and words of caution:

“Their findings suggest that when older adults build their resiliency, they will find benefits it both their mental and physical strength. They may even be able to avoid hospitalizations. There are challenges with the study that the authors also acknowledge, for example, their measure of resiliency is about your general perception of how quickly you bounce back. We can overestimate our abilities to “bounce back,” and it isn’t tied to an actual event that one needed to adapt to.”

Regardless, the study offers insight into the important relationship between the mind and the body. Further research can confirm the impact of psychological resilience and provide longer-term follow-up.

“The current study can’t tell us if psychological resilience causes better overall health or vice versa, which means that additional research is important for teasing these relationships apart,” D​r. Ritt-Olson noted.

“In the short term, incorporating concepts like resilience into the study of aging may not only contribute to a more holistic understanding of the aging experience but may also help expand the narrative around aging so that individuals feel empowered as opposed to passive participants. This intersects with efforts within the aging research community to define healthy aging not just by the absence of health-related issues but also by the quality of later years of life.”